Every year around this time, I make what I always believe is an excellent decision: to leave the first few days (or more!) of summer break gloriously unstructured, so that the kids can enjoy unrushed mornings and doing whatever they please while I casually get some work done and complete a few projects around the house. Or, I don’t know, maybe read a book while everyone plays.
And every year, around this time, I immediately realize that this is a grave error. Not just a grave error, but a gross misunderstanding of my own children. Of human nature, really.
My kids got out of school a week ago. This morning I witnessed fight #5697382 since that time. Right now? My son is in his underwear because the only shorts that are clean - and let me mention that there are a lot of shorts that are clean - are not a length that he finds suitable, he’s decided. So he is in his underwear and he is playing his own compositions on the piano. While I am happy he’s exercising his creativity, his process requires hitting the keys as hard as possible and some of his pieces are, shall we say, modern and abstract? Disjointed and alarming?
My four-year-old is screaming and, good news, she is headed this way, most likely to inform me of whatever injustice prompted the screaming. The injustices? They are many, and include quite a few that I’ve committed, including the fact that I won’t let her watch 16 episodes of “Sofia The First,” in a row, despite the fact that she has told me on numerous occassions that when the show ends, it is not really over, because you find out MORE THINGS in the next one, and wisely explained, “wouldn’t it be calmer around the house if you would just let me watch one more?” which is annoying, because it’s true. But I won’t because, I don’t know, 16 episodes is too much? So the wild kicking of her legs begins, and, because she is rather dramatic when she feels she has been betrayed, she is telling me that she “wishes she had a regular mommy,” and when I ask her what she means by “regular,” she smiles at me and says, “a mommy who isn’t bad to me all the time.”
My 10-year-old is still tired from a sleepover we hosted the night before last and is hiding in her room. When a sibling comes near the door - and she can sense this using her near-pre-teen superpowers at this point - she yells, “LEAVE ME ALONE” loud enough to rouse neighboring towns, and when I approach to see if someone is being murdered, because the fortitude of her protest suggests nothing less than a brutal killing, I find out, no, that someone was thinking of entering her space, and can’t they see that she wants - nay - needs, to be by herself?
Me? I thought I’d finish up what should have been a fairly easy editing project this morning, but it’s proving difficult. It’s not a difficult task, really, but it is a task that, it turns out, requires a basic level of peace or, at least, not being prodded by one child with a stick from where she is standing on the seat of the chair that, by the way, I am already sitting in, while another runs in and out of his big sister’s room, diving under her bed and then out again for no reason but to torture her while she proclaims that, YES, she is being tortured, and all I can think is, YOU GUYS IT IS SUMMER FOR CHRISTS SAKE WHY DO YOU WANT TO BE IN SUCH CLOSE PROXIMITY TO YOUR MOTHER WHEN YOU COULD BE OUT RIDING YOUR BIKE OR SOMETHING?
Summer! This bold and complex season. This sweaty, gorgeous interlude. While I complain (and holy hell, I will continue to complain) I did take a moment this morning - after telling my children to eat whatever they wanted, I don’t care anymore, because they were hungry again, what in the world, have we not had like seven different breakfasts already? - to remember that despite the fact that I put myself through this ritual of self-induced punishment on an annual basis, that summer also means scooping restless children into the car and onto the hot sand of one of the Connecticut or Maine beaches we frequent, then instructing them to “go!” Which they do! Swimming and building for hours. And walking barefoot to the neighborhood pool that is right across the street, taking nothing more than a couple towels (somehow never the right number), where there are friends for us all and I’m glad enough to be there to relent to insistent snack bar pressure. And, yes, unhurried mornings that are, in truth, lovely, before the first brawl. Favorite summer camps and outdoor dining. Laying in the too-hot sun and never thinking it’s too hot because the summer is just short enough to never completely get over my often-harsh feelings about the winter.
Parents, and everyone else adjusting to a more lax schedule: I wish you joy in this yearly madness. I wish you real vacation vibes and strong pours and escapes to quiet enclaves of your houses. I wish you a few, good rainy days where maybe everyone does read quietly for a few hours, and sunny, smiling, busy hours.
Because, of course, that’s what we’ll all remember. We’ll remember the good times so well that next year, around this time, we’ll welcome the unstructured days with open arms, excited and gullible and ready. For a good five minutes or so. And those five minutes are going to feel amazing.